Habibullah Khan (1872 - 1919) was the Amir of Afghanistan from 1901 until 1919. He was born in Tashkent, the eldest son of the Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, whom he succeeded by right of primogeniture in October 1901. Habibullah Khan succeeded peacefully to the throne. At the time, British India was deeply involved in Afghan affairs, and Habibullah agreed to accept British guidance in foreign affairs in return for an annual subsidy of 160,000. He was able to retain full control of his country's internal affairs and maintaining satisfactory relations with British India, he introduced needed reforms in Afghanistan and steered his country on a moderate political course.
He was Abdul Rahman's eldest son but child of a diffrent mother, kept a close watch on the palace intrigues revolving around his father's more distinguished wife (a granddaughter of Dost Mohammad), who sought the throne for her own son. Although made secure in his position as ruler by virtue of support from the army which was created by his father, Habibullah was not as domineering as Abdur Rahman. Consequently, the influence of religious leaders as well as that of Mahmoud Beg Tarzi, a cousin of the king, increased during his reign. Tarzi, a highly educated, well-traveled poet and journalist, founded an Afghan nationalist newspaper with Abdur Rahman's agreement, and until 1919 he used the newspaper as a platform for rebutting clerical criticism of Western-influenced changes in government and society, for espousing full Afghan independence, and for other reforms. Tarzi's passionate Afghan nationalism influenced a future generation of Asian reformers.
Habibullah was a relatively secular, reform-minded ruler who attempted to modernize his country. During his reign he worked to bring Western medicine and other technology to Afghanistan. In 1904, Habibullah founded the Habibia school as well as a military academy. He also published a weekly paper in Persian called Siraj-ul-Akhbar, which agitated for reform. He instituted various legal reforms and repealed many of the harshest criminal penalties. Other reforms included the dismantling of the repressive internal intelligence organization that had been put in place by his father.
He also greatly reduced tensions with India, signing a treaty of friendship in 1905 and paying an official state visit in 1907.
Habibullah's antiwar policy was unpopular with the young anti-British elements in the population.
With the outbreak of World War I (1914-18), there was widespread support in Afghanistan of Ottoman Turkey against the British, Habibullah, was able to maintain a policy of non-involvement throughout the war. He did, however, entertain a Turco-German mission in Kabul in 1915. He meanwhile moved to open Afghanistan to technology from the West, founding schools, a military academy, and a weekly newspaper. He also introduced electricity, automobiles, and Western medical methods to the country. After much procrastination, he won an agreement from the Central Powers for a huge payment and arms provision in exchange for attacking British India. But the crafty Afghan ruler clearly viewed the war as an opportunity to play one side off against the other, for he also offered the British to resist a Central Powers from an attack on India in exchange for an end to British control of Afghan foreign policy.
On February 20, 1919, Habibullah, the ruler of Afghanistan, was assassinated on a hunting trip. He had not declared a succession, but left his third son, Amanullah, in charge in Kabul. Because Amanullah controlled both the national treasury and the army, he was well situated to seize power. Army support allowed Amanullah to suppress other claims and imprison those relatives who would not swear loyalty to him. Within a few months, the new amir had gained the allegiance of most tribal leaders and established control over the cities.